How has Covid created new ways of working for the legal sector?
Covid has created several new ways of working in the legal sector. Lawyers of the future are very fortunate in that they won't have to try to adapt or change old traditional ways of working. Instead they will be very much a part of the creation of new ways of working. The change in law firm culture is inevitable now because of the challenges presented by the pandemic and technology is at the forefront of this revolution.
Eagle Labs has been working within the LawTech space for three years. We have seen the sector from all angles, from the point of view of big law firms, industry bodies and disruptive startups. I think legal sector has been traditionally slower to innovate and adapt to new technology and processes compared to other professional services - such as finance and its adoption of FinTech. But we’ve seen positive results from the new ways of working forced on incumbents has increased adoption across the sector, which is promising.
Although it may seem like a small change, we’ve seen an increase in the use of e-signatures and this is a significant step forward for the industry. E-signatures have traditionally been accepted in practice for simple documents however, pre-pandemic they were rarely used for complex documents as there was some scepticism around their validity. Now firms have had to adapt and introduce them. The result has been increased trust in e-signatures and greater efficiencies.
Looking forward, I think there will be a greater focus on the use of technology. The introduction of new technologies will require a more diverse set of skills from lawyers. They will have to be flexible and adapt to using various types of software and technology. This, in turn, will lead to changes to university law curriculums. Many universities have already started introducing ‘LawTech’ courses which provides students with the opportunity to learn about new and emerging legal technologies and the change in client demands. Clients want to see technology being used to create greater efficiencies and provide transparency over cost.
Finally, certain areas of law may see an increase in demand, such as employment law and family law. It’s likely there will be a high volume of workplace disputes over people’s ability to work from home. Employees will want certainty that is safe for them to return to the office environment. The pandemic has also put a strain on many relationships which has increased divorce volumes.
Are the changes here to stay?
In my opinion, yes. Law firms have readily adapted to new ways of working and have seen the benefits of remote working, such as a better work-life balance. Certainly from the law sector polls and the surveys published over the past 18 months, it seems most would like to work in office two or three days a week. I think that many firms are likely to adopt more of a hybrid model. Some are more productive in the office so it allows them to have a nice blend.
The shift in using video conferencing platforms every day to effectively communicate with teams and clients has placed a greater value and importance on technology for law firms which has changed their perception of LawTech. I think in the coming months we will certainly start to see a significant rise in LawTech adoption. Clients will place a higher level of importance on firms to use technology and will likely start to consider this a metric for contracts.
How has LawTech adapted?
I see the LawTech community focussing on the smaller, growing, firms rather than on larger corporate firms. Established firms are better equipped to cope with remote working and other Covid challenges, using existing tools and software they’ve already embedded across their firms. Firms on the smaller end of the market don't necessarily have the same level of resource and finance to invest in the technology required, so they have found the shift challenging. LawTech startups understand this and are considering how they can best serve and support this part of the market.
How are Eagle Labs helping the LawTech community?
Like the LawTech sector, we had to quickly adapt our proposition and deliver it virtually. It changed the way we run our events, communicate with our LawTech members and engage with our law firm partner. At the beginning, there were challenges and a great deal of awkwardness because it was new for everyone. We had to introduce new ways of convening the community and getting everyone re-energised and committed to recreating a physical programme virtually.
We also had to do this with our LawTech startup community. They no longer had that physical central hub where they had access to many tools, resources, potential clients and mentors. We had to provide them with the assurance that they had the same level of support from us and access to the network but in a virtual way. We launched a variety of events for our LawTech members to re-assemble that community and made sure our monthly mentoring programme with our law firm partner group continued virtually. We hosted games and quiz nights to keep the community enthused and engaged. Our LawTech members tell us that they get a lot of value out of being able to speak to one another by just knocking on their office door and saying, ‘I've tried to do this, have you got any support that you can lend to me?’ We wanted to keep these kinds of conversations very fluid and able to happen so we recreated this virtually so that our startups could continue to talk to each other and still feel as if they were in a physical space.
We introduced regular monthly LawTech meetups where we discussed industry challenges and changes and how our startups evolved to meet new demand from the industry.
How have Eagle Labs tried to expand the reach of the community?
LawTech is not limited to London. We have expanded our footprint and scaled our LawTech community across the UK through the introduction of our free virtual membership. This has allowed us to access and support LawTech startups nationally providing them access to our ecosystem, partners, events, Barclays’ Legal team and additional programme activities
We have recently launched our thought leadership series with The Law Society that allows us to convene the LawTech community to tackle the big issues facing the sector. The first session focussed on the future of the mid-market and SME law firms and the LawTech startup community. We had representatives from a number of our SME law firm partners and members of our wider ecosystem on the panel with more than 100 attendees engaging with the panel and asking them questions live.
We’ve also invited our LawTech startups to attend our monthly partner meetings so that they can provide updates on their products, ask questions and get the necessary support they need from the partner group.
We want to drive greater value for smaller firms in the market. So, in partnership with the Law Society, we’re creating a programme of activities that enables us to work closely with the SME market and enable them to extract the same value as our current corporate law firm partners.
What will the rest of 2021 and beyond hold for LawTech?
Prior to the pandemic investment in legal tech increased year-on-year. I anticipate that this investment will begin to pick up again in a post-Covid world. LawTech startups have continually pivoted their model to target different legal practice areas. The mind-set and culture of the legal profession has definitely changed as a result of Covid, which I think will be a catalyst for further innovation and LawTech adoption throughout 2021 with exciting opportunities for firms - big and small - as well as for the innovators.
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